Winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around.
Winter tales are mostly ghost stories, and often associated with Christmas. I try to share one or two every year during the Holiday Season. This is where I collect links or copies of all the public domain winter tales I’ve blogged about.
The Old Portrait
A Christmas vampire story by Hume Nesbit
The Marble Child
By Edith Nesbit. Published in the 1910 Christmas number of The Graphic magazine. A lonely little boy makes a new friend.
The House On the Cliff
By W. J. Wintle. Cyril just wanted to get away for some peace and quiet, but he got more than he bargained for.
The Searcher of the End House
By William Hope Hodgson. One of Carnacki the Ghost-finder’s early cases: a ghostly game of hide-and-seek.
The Old Nurse’s Story
By Elizabeth Gaskell. Ghost organs and old secrets haunt Furnivall Manor.
By Lord Dunsany. Not quite a ghost story, but a lovely little weird tale that just begs to be read aloud.
The Family of a Vourdalak (as PDF: 1.8 MB)
Also as EPUB (520 KB)
By Alexei Tolstoy. A longer novella. A womanizing French diplomat stays with a Serbian family (with a beautiful daughter) whose patriarch may or may not be a vourdalak (vampire).
The Crown Derby Plate (Link to Project Gutenberg Australia)
By Marjorie Bowen. Martha Pym has two wishes: to see a ghost, and to complete her Crown Derby tea service.
By W. F. Harvey. Mr. Tolson has a strange desire: to be anesthetized on a certain December date, at midnight. And he’s willing to pay a lot for it. But why?
At Chrichton Abbey
By Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Is there doom hanging over the sons of the Chrichton family? Can getting married prevent it?
By B. M. Croker. John Hollyoak, skeptic, agrees to spend the night in Number Ninety, a house of “such a desperate reputation, that even the adjoining mansions stood vacant.” Does it change his mind? Of course it does.
Thirteen At Table
By Lord Dunsany. Sort of a companion piece to “Number Ninety.” Mr. Linton ends up at a most interesting dinner party. Is the haunting rats in the wainscoting, or bats in the belfry? You decide. Slightly creepy and gently humorous.
The Haunted Dragoon
By Arthur Quiller-Couch. A handsome dragoon (cavalry or mounted infantryman), searching for a fugitive smuggler, billets himself and his men at the home of a miserly farmer and his much younger, love-starved wife. The inevitable happens, with dark, dark consequences….
By Algernon Blackwood. Johnson works for a law firm that has just won the acquittal (by insanity) of an especially vicious murderer. Worn out by the case, and obsessed by the killer’s evil face, Johnson plans to recover by spending his Christmas holiday in the Alps. Assuming he manages to finish packing for his trip.
The Magic Shop
By H.G. Wells. A story both sweet and unsettling; the narrator and his son happen upon a wonderful magic shop — one that the narrator hadn’t remembered as being quite in that place.
The Half-Haunted (Link to Wikisource)
By Manly Wade Wellman (writing as Gans T. Field). The site of a Revolutionary War era murder still holds its memories — and more. This New Year’s eve tale is more action-packed than spooky, but it’s fun.
Some “true” spooky stories from Ghosts and Family Legends: A Volume for Christmas (1858) by Catherine Crowe:
- Madame Von B.’s story: A woodsman gets a bit too greedy for his own good in this short Jamesianish tale.
- Colonel C.’s story: Farmer Gould has a tragic “accident” on the road late at night. A crime story with a supernatural twist.
- Doctor S.’s story: Two doctors investigate a haunted house in suburban Dublin. A story with all the classic elements.
The Face in the Fresco (Link to Ghosts & Scholars)
By Arnold Smith. A Jamesian tale about the collision of the old ways and the new. Mr. Jones takes a weekend to visit a newly discovered, rather sinister twelfth-century fresco.
A Strange Christmas Game
By Charlotte Riddell. Struggling artist John Lester and his sister unexpectedly inherit a country estate — which is haunted by the ghost of an ancestor. Things come to a head on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve (as PDF: 1.6 MB) Also as EPUB (114 KB)
By Nikolai Gogol. No ghosts, but witches, the devil, and lots of farcical supernatural hijinks. A pious blacksmith colludes with the devil to impress the woman he loves. Rich in details of Ukrainian folkore and folklife. This one isn’t spooky, but it’s a lot of fun.
Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk
By Frank Cowper. A stranded duck hunter must spend Christmas Eve alone on a mysterious derelict ship. But is he really alone?
By Richard Marsh. Sort of a companion piece to “Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk.” Eric and Violet Millen hear a ghostly argument on their rented houseboat — one with deadly consequences.
Maestro Pérez, Organist
By Gustavo Bécquer. Maestro Pérez, brilliant organist, dies while playing at the Christmas midnight Mass. Who will play the organ next year? Not scary, but the first two-thirds are a good Christmas ghost story. (The translation, by Armand F. Baker, is not public domain. Please don’t share without attribution.)
The Devil’s Cross
By Gustavo Bécquer. There is a strange iron cross by the banks of the Segre River, and no one ever prays there. (The translation, by Armand F. Baker, is not public domain. Please don’t share without attribution.)
A Christmas Tree
By Charles Dickens. More of an essay than a story. In the first part of the essay Dickens writes about his childhood memories, and about story telling in general (lots of references to 1001 Nights). In the second part he gives us synopses of some winter ghost stories that he’s heard over the years.
Dickon the Devil
By Sheridan Le Fanu. Originally published in the Christmas number of London Society magazine, though it’s not a Christmas-themed story. Nice creepy bedtime visitation.
A Kidnapped Santa Claus
A charming fairy tale/children’s story by Frank L. Baum of Wizard of Oz fame.
Christmas Storms and Sunshine (Link to Project Gutenberg)
By Elizabeth Gaskell. Not a ghost story, but a Christmas fable. Rather sweet.
The Autobiography of a Quack (Link to Project Gutenberg)
A medical short story by Silas Weir Mitchell with just a hint of Christmas spice, and a touch of a Christmas ghost — maybe.
More Winter Tales
Christmas Ghost Stories: a collection of winter tales
Author Mark Onspaugh’s wife Tobey Crockett happened to drop by one of my Christmas Ghost Story posts, and she mentioned her husband’s recent collection of sixteen winter tales. How could I resist? I read it over Christmas Eve and Christmas evening, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Some of them are fairy tales, some of them are straight up ghost stories; all of them are a good read. My favorites: the four linked Black Forest stories: “The Woodcutter’s Tale,” “The Innkeeper’s Tale,” “The Tinker’s Tale,” and “The Huntman’s Tale.”